Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Seven months after approving a Lower Miller Creek subdivision, members of the City Council on Wednesday approved a development agreement requiring the project to pay 36% of the cost of a new roundabout at a key intersection.

The Riverfront Trails subdivision is planned on 92 acres off Old Bitterroot and Lower Miller Creek roads and will result in 176 residential lots when completed. When the City Council approved the project last December, it initially required the developer to cover 100% of the cost of the roundabout at the Miller Creek and Old Bitterroot intersection.

But that was only if a development agreement wasn't reached with Tollefson Properties, which is developing the project. The city has since conducted a traffic study that found that 36% of the roundabout's use would come from new residents in Riverfront Trails.

The remaining 64% is attributed to existing background traffic in the developing region of Missoula's South Hills.

“The roundabout's need has been accelerated due to this larger project. But it's really serving a larger purpose in the overall network,” said Ryan Guelff, a transportation engineer with the city. “We have concluded that this roundabout is necessary regardless of this development.”

Transportation officials with the city are currently designing a capital improvement project to improve portions of Lower Miller Creek Road, which is seeing more traffic as the pace of development picks up.

The city has contracted WGM group for the roundabout's design and to negotiate easements with adjacent property owners. The design will shift the majority of the roundabout onto property owned by Riverfront Trails.

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Guelff placed the roundabout's cost at around $1 million, including $100,000 in right-of-way costs. The developer provided most of the right-of-way at a value of $85,000. Portions of the project not covered by the developer will be paid for using impact fees and the creation of a special improvement district.

The project is slated for construction in 2025, the city said.

“We really think it's necessary. The goal of the Lower Miller Creek Road project provides alternative safe modes of transportation through the bike facilities, sidewalks and lighting,” said Guelff. “Roundabouts are probably our most effective traffic control feature for slowing speeds and proving relatively safe and comfortable pedestrian and bicycle crossing opportunities where those modes only cross a single lane of traffic at a time.”

He added that the nearby elementary school generates foot and bicycle traffic by students.

“We've always anticipated the potential for a (special improvement district) to help fund the Lower Miller Creek capital improvement project, which the roundabout is included,” said city engineer Kevin Slovarp. “The improvements are to the street and intersection, but they benefit everybody.”

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